The Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice rolled through Long Island on Tuesday.
The Yes We Can Community Center in Westbury was one of the first three stops on the campaign’s “Drive for $15” bus tour, which hit the gas Tuesday morning in Manhattan and also rallied supporters at an afternoon stop in the Bronx.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is using the tour to “restore economic justice,” according to his office, by energizing his push to make New York the first state in the nation to enact an across-the-board $15 minimum wage.
Cuomo, who named the campaign for his late father and statehouse predecessor, got the ball rolling in January during his state of the state and annual budget address, when he announced his intentions to bump up minimum wage throughout the State University of New York system, putting 28,000 SUNY employees on the path to $15 an hour.
The SUNY employee raises will be phased in, according to the governor’s plan, much in the same way New York began phasing in new higher minimums for other state workers last October.
Now, the governor wants private industry to follow suit, and is looking to rally support as he urges the state Legislature to pass his phased-in, all-industry wage proposal this legislative session.
Cuomo calls it an economic necessity – an across-the-board $15 minimum wage would benefit more than 2.3 million New Yorkers and boost direct consumer spending upwards of $15.7 billion, according to his office – and was flanked by cadre of enthusiastically supportive activists and elected officials as he made his case at the Yes We Can Community Center.
Among those helping the governor beat the $15 per hour drum were Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU – a.k.a. United Healthcare Workers East, the nation’s largest organization of healthcare workers.
Also lending their support were North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth and Wayne Spence, president of the New York State Public Employees Federation.
The impressive assemblage speaks for itself, according to the governor – and speaks to the importance of the minimum-wage issue.
“When you speak up, the political process listens,” Cuomo told the Westbury audience. “They teach you in school that politicians lead. Sometimes they lead. My experience is they follow. And they follow the people. You make your voice heard, we’re going to win this.
“This is about fundamental fairness,” the governor added. “Millionaires and billionaires are making more than ever before … but for the middle class and the working family jobs, the pay is actually going down, and the respect and the dignity that goes with those job is being devalued.”
The governor also tied in his push for new paid family leave benefits, noting the United States is “one of three nations on the globe that doesn’t have paid family leave,” alongside Papua New Guinea and the South American Republic of Suriname.
“Who would believe that?” Cuomo asked.
The governor’s plan: mandated employee-sponsored funds, paid into at an individual rate of about 70 cents per week, that could provide up to $700 per week in benefits for employees on family leave. The cost to businesses? “Nada, scatta, niente, nulo,” the governor said, noting even hiring replacement workers shouldn’t affect bottom lines, since the funds pay for the employees on leave – creating a virtual push for the employer.
“It has no effect economically on businesses,” Cuomo added. “And it makes a world of difference in respect and livability for an employee.”
Together, according to the governor, the increased minimum wages and the family leave plan will create a more financially secure and emotionally satisfied workforce, a major advantage for the New York economy.
“If we do $15 minimum wage and we do paid family leave, we will have done something,” he said. “We will have changed.”